Content to read

It may sound like sacrilege to the terminally trendy, but many of the current crop of fashion and lifestyle magazines go further than being a victory of style over content. Many are so stylised you can’t understand the content.

Fonts change so many times you get a headache, text is printed over colours, making it impossible to read, and readers can find themselves squinting over upturned pages in a bid to understand what, if anything, they are looking at.

Perseverance gives a clear illustration of why the text is given such a low priority – it isn’t very good.

If/Then, published jointly by The Netherlands Design Institute and Amsterdam group BIS Publishers, looks at first glance to be suffering from the same problem.

Both front and back covers feature unflattering photographs of blotchy-skinned amateur models, and the inside pages feature inconsistent design which makes the text muddled and unappealing. Art directors Mevis and Van Deursen appear to be taking the style mags on at their own game.

But persist and some of the articles, by an impressive list of contributors including novelist and screenwriter Paul Auster, artist Pierre Bismuth, vice-president of research and development at The Disney Company Alan Kay, and photographer David Rinella, contain much of interest.

Childless journalist Pauline Bax recounts a day with a Baby Think It Over doll – a screaming life-sized baby created to stem the flood of unwanted teenage pregnancies afflicting many US cities. Schoolgirls are given the doll for a week in the hope it will convince them to take sensible precautions in their sex lives.

Bax takes the batteries out after a day, tired of the mewing “child”, and the reactions passers-by have to it. One office worker claims, “My ovaries are cringing,” after seeing the doll.

Writer and media consultant Susan Delson takes a look at the 1940s photography of Helen Levitt, examining how Levitt was influenced by surrealist cinema. Delson illustrates how Levitt’s choice of photographic subjects, often young children in New York’s city streets, fits neatly into a surrealist frame through their unselfconscious behaviour.

There is an interesting story about the latest range of interactive Lego toys, and a fun comparison of the parallel development of computer games and space travel.

Amsterdam art critic Paul Groot has even conceived a ballet, called Lara, based on the gestures of Playstation’s Lara Croft. Dancers emulate her diving and rolling as a giant screen relays a “live” game of Tomb Raider on a giant screen.

Groot’s theory, that Lara Croft is a pivotal figure in the modern arts scene, seems laboured. But the 15-year-old boy who plays the live game while half a dozen live Laras cavort in front of him must think he’s in heaven.

But, a transcribed conversation between members of the Long Lake Design Camp, discussing the relationships of toys and tools, is dull and pretentious. And I gave up on several articles, including one proposing games of soccer and basketball with two balls each, within the first few lines.

In situations like these last articles, the introduction of style over content is welcome, on the basis that even if the articles aren’t worth reading they can at least look good.

If/Then is published by the Netherlands Design Institute and BIS Publishers, price approx 20

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